Pambazuka News 400: Pan-Africa's new dawn: celebrating 400 issues of Pambazuka News
The authoritative electronic weekly newsletter and platform for social justice in Africa
Pambazuka News (English edition): ISSN 1753-6839
With over 1000 contributors and an estimated 500,000 readers Pambazuka News is the authoritative pan African electronic weekly newsletter and platform for social justice in Africa providing cutting edge commentary and in-depth analysis on politics and current affairs, development, human rights, refugees, gender issues and culture in Africa.
Edição em língua Portuguesa
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CONTENTS: 1. Features, 2. Comment & analysis
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Celebrating the 400th issue of Pambazuka News
This is the 400th issue of Pambazuka News. As if to mark this occasion, we received news today that, for the fourth year running, Pambazuka News has been voted amongst the top 10 websites “who are changing the world of Internet and Politics” by PoliticsOnline and eDemocracy Forum. But to make this really special, we learned that, thanks to you – our readers, contributors and supporters – we received the highest number of votes cast, more votes than Barack Obama’s entry in the competition! (17 October: well, that is what we were told by the organisers - but at the award ceremony held in Paris we learned that Obama won this competition. Still Pambazuka News did well to have still been in the top 10 despite the stiff competition)
Pambazuka News was established to provide a platform for nurturing the (re)emergence of a progressive pan African movement. Over a period eight years, some 1,200 citizens – academics, social activists, women's organizations, writers, artists, poets, bloggers, and commentators – have contributed to Pambazuka News to produce insightful and thoughtful analyses that make it the most innovative and influential sites for social justice in Africa. It is this community that have made Pambazuka News ‘successful’.
But, as the contributors in this special celebratory issue point out, there remains much to be done. The growth of Pambazuka News has to be seen in the context of the struggles of the emerging movement in Africa. We are living in a period of an unprecedented upsurge of social movements across the continent. The last popular upsurge in the post second world war period swept the continent with cries of freedom from colonial oppression, bringing about political independence to every country on the continent. But one form of oppression has been replaced by another – the neo-colonial yoke. The leaders in whom we had such faith have sold our heritage in a manner predicted by Frantz Fanon at a time that few of us had any inkling of what the new post-colonial world would look like. In most countries, the majority of people are poorer today than they were 20 years ago. ‘Development’, that euphemism for the re(construction) of a modernised capitalist world, has brought untold impoverishment and misery to the many, and unprecedented wealth to the few, a feature exacerbated by the period of 'globalisation'. The record of the last fifty years provides ample evidence. The implosion of the financial markets today in the US and in Europe is an inevitable consequence of the free-market policies that have been touted as being the panacea for all the world’s ills by the neo-liberals and neo-cons as well as by our own governments who have so willingly colluded in the implementation of these disastrous social and economic policies. So what is to be done?
As with every major significant transformation in history, the building of an alternative, another world, is not going to be achieved by empty declarations of dogmas, however attractive they may be to us and to those who propound them. The collapse of the Soviet Union led to the collapse of credibility of alternative ideologies to the mantras of capital. At the same time, the vacuum created has forced many to think more deeply about the way forward, based on concrete analyses of the conditions facing our continent, based on connecting with our own histories, and based on the need to engage in dialogues that reflect the diversity of thinking, imagination and creativity with which this continent abounds.
Pambazuka News has, we believe, made a small – and we hope important – contribution towards nurturing analysis, creativity, debate and discussion in Africa and amongst the diaspora, that will help give birth to a strong progressive movement for equality, justice and freedoms. For us, the key to that has been to facilitate solidarity and joint actions in support of the oppressed and exploited, and providing a space through which their voices can be heard above the cacophony of the market. There are many voices that remain under-represented in the pages of Pambazuka News, especially those of peasants and workers movements, refugees and displaced people, and the mass of the disenfranchised. Our efforts in the coming period will be directed towards overcoming these shortcomings. Our role will continue to be to promote emancipatory politics.
But if Pambazuka News has ‘done well’, it is because of you, dear reader, and all you who have contributed. So join us in celebrating your 400th issue and for voting Pambazuka News as the top website that is changing the world of politics and the internet - the only African website to have been nominated in the competition.
* Firoze Manji is founding editor of Pambazuka News and executive director of Fahamu - Networks for social justice.
* Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or comment online at http://www.pambazuka.org/
Our political guiding post: Pan-Africanism’s new dawn
Issa G Shivji
Celebrating Pambazuka’s 400th issue is celebrating pan-Africanism itself. Through its half a million readership and one thousand plus contributors from all over Africa, Pambazuka has truly set ablaze an intellectual pan-African trail; ‘insurrection of ideas precedes insurrection of arms’, some militant is quoted to have said. Pambazuka is certainly not a call to (physical) arms, but one to intellectual and ideological arms. We need it if the pan-African vision – not a dream – is to survive and continue to guide our thoughts and actions as Africans. As Souleymane Bachir Diagne says, we should make pan-Africanism a category of intellectual thought.
I have asserted many times in the pages of Pambazuka and elsewhere that ‘new pan-Africanism’, rooted in social (popular) democracy, is African nationalism of the era of the so-called globalised phase of imperialism. African nationalism was born of pan-Africanism, not the other way round. Its genesis was rooted in democracy – self-determination and anti-imperialism. Self-determination and anti-imperialism are two sides of the same coin, none of which could be successfully achieved on the level of colonially carved territories. The first generation of African nationalists were deeply conscious of the dangers of territorial nationalisms based on geographical spaces designed as countries by colonialists. Nyerere derogatively characterised African countries as vinchi or statelets! African nationalism outside pan-Africanism is tribalism on the international level, he boldly asserted in the early 1960s. Both Nyerere and Nkrumah believed that without a continental unity, individual African countries would become pawns on the imperialist chessboard or degenerate into narrow cultural, racial, or ethnic nationalisms, or both. In this, unfortunately, they were prophetic as half a century of African independence has amply demonstrated.
On the morrow of receiving the insignia of sovereign states, a few of the ‘founding fathers’ genuinely set out to build nations within the colonially defined borders, which all of them, as heads of states, unanimously agreed were sacred, although unviable. Others set to build their power-bases on the colonially invented or re-invented ethnic ‘identities’. Still others did not survive long enough to do either, or something else, because they were overthrown (Nkrumah) or assassinated (Lumumba) by imperialist machinations. Whatever the case, they all failed to build viable, legitimate states and nations.
Kenyatta’s Kenya and Nyerere’s Tanganyika are illustrative examples. Anchored in ethnic power-bases, which also determined resource allocations, the darling of Western imperialism in this part of the world exploded following the 2008 general elections. The so-called government of the so-called ‘national unity’ was cobbled together by American pressure while pretending to be a miracle performed by the chairman of African Union, Jakaya Kikwete, the Tanzanian president. Tanganyika has not so far exploded, thanks to the legacy of Nyerere’s far-sighted policies, preaching and personal integrity helped by relatively undeveloped class divisions. That is proving to be fragile, thanks to extreme social and economic polarisation wrought by Mkapa’s neo-liberal polices, taken over by Kikwete, over the last 15 or so years. The 2000, and even more so the 2005, elections were marked by racial and religious animosity and ethnic based alliances and campaigning. Under the veneer of peace, unity, and stability, Tanzanian political and even intellectual elites are covertly and overtly involved in religious- and ethnic-based politicking. This came out openly in the last session of the parliament where honourable members were unashamedly polarised along religious lines on the issues of the possible membership of OIC (Organisation of Islamic Conference) and the proposal to introduce Kadhi’s courts for the Muslim community.
Even more problematic is the union between Tanganyika and Zanzibar which this year celebrated its 44th anniversary. While the Cold War was the context and pressure from the West to meet what it considered a communist threat undoubtedly played a role, Nyerere’s was driven, at least partly, by his pan-African convictions. He would have preferred Zanzibar to be part of a greater East African federation but his colleagues in Kenya and Uganda were too enamoured with new power and state positions to relinquish it in the interest of a larger association. The failure to form the East African federation bore out Nyerere’s fears. He had argued repeatedly that once African countries went into independence alone, it would be too difficult to dislodge vested interests thus created.
Once you multiply national anthems, national flags and national passports, seats at the United Nations, and individuals entitled to 21 gun salutes, not to speak of a host of ministers, prime ministers, and envoys, you would have a whole army of powerful people with vested interests in keeping Africa balkanised.
While the political union of East Africa is still marking time forty years later, even economic integration has been in the doldrums. The East African Community collapsed in the late 1970s and was only revived 10 years ago. Ironically, therefore, the union with Zanzibar, whose future is being seriously threatened, and the fragility of regional economic integration, are proving Nyerere’s position in his debate with Nkrumah questionable. It should be recalled that Nkrumah stood for immediate political union of African states while Nyerere argued in favour of a gradualist approach against Nkrumah’s immediate political unification. Nkrumah dubbed Nyerere’s efforts at EA federation ‘balkanisation on a larger scale’ while ‘regional economic groupings,’ he said, ‘retard rather than promote the unification process.’
While logic was on Nyerere’s side, history has vindicated Nkrumah. All experiments at regional political unions did not survive. Senegambia, formed in 1982, was dissolved on 1989 because the Gambia refused closer union with Senegal. Formed much earlier, the Mali federation collapsed within two years. The only union to survive long was the unity of former British Somaliland and the Italian Somalia, which was formed in 1960 voluntarily by the people of British Somaliland voting in a referendum to join the former Italian Somalia to form the Somali Republic. With the collapse of the Siad Barre regime in 1991 and the whole country breaking up into warlords’ fiefdoms, Somaliland withdrew to form the Republic of Somaliland, which to this date remains unrecognised. Though it remains shaky, this makes the Tanganyika-Zanzibar the longest surviving union between two African countries. The moral is that regional unities, of whatever kind, particularly political, have failed to make it.
Nkrumah’s vision of continental political unity thus remains a beacon of hope. More recently, Muammar Gaddafi has tried to take on Nkrumah’s mantle. But Gaddafi is no Nkrumah. The call for political unification from Gaddafi has found little support. The classical debate between Nyerere and Nkrumah has been resurrected but it is a pale shadow of its former self. There is no Nyerere to argue for gradualism with any legitimacy while Gaddafi is a wrong man to argue a right cause. His maverick tactics and twisting of arms has only resulted in rekindling the Arab-African cultural divide. That brings me to the cultural argument often deployed even by otherwise progressive intellectuals against continental unity.
Pan-Africanism was rooted in anti-imperialist politics. It was a political and not an economic, cultural, or racial project. At a public rally called by PAFMECA (Pan-African Movement of Eastern and Central Africa) in Zanzibar in April 1959, Nyerere said that he did not believe that an African was defined by the colour of his skin. An African, he asserted, is any one who has made Africa his home and is struggling for the rights of his country. This is a political definition of an African, not racial or cultural. Both Frantz Fanon and Amílcar Cabral saw culture as a form and expression of national struggle rather than an ossified custom or tradition. As Archie Mafeje argued, it is one thing to invoke culture – even invent it – as a counterpoint to the assertion and domination by European imperialist culture, it is quite another to make culture a reference point of (political) division.
In conclusion, I return to the point that pan-Africanism was a political project for the first generation of African nationalists and remains so. Africa is at crossroads. We either rise to the progressive, anti-imperialist pan-Africanism as a continental political project of national liberation and social emancipation, or descend into narrow chauvinist nationalisms, be they racial, cultural, or ethnic. I believe we are at the dawn of a new era of pan-Africanism. We have to re-appropriate the pan-Africanist vision, and make it a category of intellectual thought and a guiding post of political struggles.
* Issa G. Shivji is one of Africa’s most radical and original thinkers and has written frequently for Pambazuka News. He is the author of several books, including Silences in NGO Discourse (2007), published in Fahamu Books.
* Please send comments to email@example.com or comment online at http://www.pambazuka.org/
Pambazuka and the ‘yes and no’ of Solidarity
Being invited to contribute to the 400th issue of Pambazuka News is like receiving a tremendously prestigious award. This weekly forum is in a remarkable way of illustrating and living the meaning of solidarity since the beginning of this century in the wider African, if not global, context. Hence I have decided to offer a few thoughts on the notion of solidarity.
‘Solidarity’ is a rather traditional term that is applicable in many different ways, and has by definition nothing inherently revolutionary. It is practiced not only by those marginalised or oppressed in their fight against the injustices under which they are suffering. Solidarity as a form of collective identification with and action for particular interests and in pursuance of certain common goals is as often (and effectively) implemented by the ‘haves’ against the ‘have-nots’, if only to protect their own interests. Parts of the bourgeoisie often acted in solidarity to meet the solidarity among the labour movement of the working class. Hence an ‘act of solidarity’ might sound like something good, but does not yet indicate or pre-determine in any way for which values it stands and in whose interests it is practiced. We can be in solidarity with many different things and for very different reasons.
Even among those who assume or want to believe that they are birds of the same feather a decision of taking sides as an act of solidarity can lead to different results. There were demonstrations at the World Social Forum in Nairobi in late January 2007 condemning the attacks on Somalia as US-imperialist warfare in its fanatic ‘war against terror.’ But there were also the demonstrations celebrating the intervention for the defeat of what was considered a repressive, reactionary institutionalised system. The same events motivated fundamentally different, irreconcilable expressions of solidarity.
Solidarity can also change. The international solidarity movement supported the anti-colonial liberation movements and cheered Robert Mugabe while he was campaigning in exile for the independence of Zimbabwe. It is more than dubious (to put it mildly) if he deserves any form of solidarity these days for what he stands for, though some die-hards would continue to claim so. But solidarity as a notion relates to basic values and norms more so than any form of personalised loyalties. It is not cast in stone when it comes to the actors who qualify for solidarity. Solidarity can cease if those who deserve it abandon or betray the shared basis and common bonds created by an ethical framework and a morally binding understanding over the common purpose for actions pursued. Once victims turn into perpetrators and oppressed into oppressors, solidarity needs to re-position.
Solidarity, in this sense, is more a process with shifting consequences, while the goalposts should remain the same. It is not a fixed state of mind or an achievement once and for all. It has to be debated and even fought over, in an ongoing effort to investigate and define common ground and goals, or to hammer out possible forms of joint action. In this way, solidarity as a process resembles in many ways what could be said about civil society: such a process may well be conceptualised as being predicated on a field of debate and struggle over societal goals and priorities, and epitomised specifically by civil society on various scales, including the international or global scale. At the same time, this constitutes one more pointer to the problems of the content of such solidarity. This may imply widely diverse priorities and goals, depending not only on different perceptions of problems but also, more fundamentally, on different concerns.
Solidarity in the context of Pambazuka News has obviously never been cast in stone by means of a strict and rigorous definition. But it is practiced in an ongoing consequent way, which gives it a certain meaning (notwithstanding differences at least in nuances, if not even in more principled matters). It relates to identification with ‘the Wretched of the Earth’, in both the sense of Karl Marx and Frantz Fanon. It entails compassion and political commitment on the side of the oppressed. But again, even this is not enough as a common denominator while we are operating on shifting grounds. Since Pambazuka News became a reality eight years ago, political and social realities have produced major changes on a global scale. The classical North-South dichotomy is increasingly replaced by a divide between the global South and a privileged elite in islands all over the planet. The acronym BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) symbolises newly emerging global players (not including continental ones like South Africa). The struggles within the struggle have become more challenging due to a new complexity. The enemy’s enemy has never been automatically or by definition one’s friend, not even an ally. The issues, which require we take a position, include the effects of global warming and environmental change (not least control over water, air and other public goods), the all-encompassing WTO claims for property rights as well as issues related to gender and sexuality, to mention only few of the most obvious challenges. While hardly ever noted anymore, class structures, interests and agencies remain a substantive factor impacting on the living conditions on the earth, not only for human beings but all forms of life. For some this latter, all embracing qualification might sound ‘esoteric.’ It is not.
Claiming the need for a spiritual dimension of solidarity, John Sanbonmatsu in his study The Postmodern Prince: Critical Theory, Left Strategy, and the Making of a New Political Subject bemoans the reluctance of the Left to consider itself as a moral movement, seeking to establish an ethics of its own. As he insists: ‘socialism cannot give us our ethics; our ethics gives us our socialism. That is, because our foundational moral beliefs and commitments define our perceptual objects for us, they play a crucial role in shaping the specific forms of action that we end up with.’ Based on this understanding, the personal exposure to forms of oppression and experience of exploitation, or acquaintance with forms of un-freedom, provides an indirect causal relationship at best between one’s ability to understand and act and one’s own social position. In accordance with feminist and critical race theories, neither one’s ‘objective’ position within a social hierarchy nor one’s personal experience of oppression is in itself a sufficient condition for political awareness and action.
As Sanbonmatsu argues further: ‘[o]ne’s location in a subordinate position is in fact not even a necessary condition for critical insight; because solidarity, the phenomenological “glue” that holds together every movement, is constituted not only through “first order” experiences of power, but also through “second order” experiences – viz., through empathy for those who suffer.’ Empathy, therefore, is a constitutive factor in political identity. While empathy does not automatically translate into solidarity (nor into ethical behaviour), it can serve as a compass: ‘When we wilfully deny empathy as a mode of access to human experience, we also blind ourselves to the outcomes and catastrophes of our own political judgements.’ Given the diversity of movements in the global coalitions of today, such empathy is also a prerequisite for the ability to listen to one another and for permissiveness and openness towards ‘otherness.’ Suffering in its variety of forms requires empathy and solidarity by all and transcends a politically correct ideology. An empathic response as a moral force contributes to political alliances on a global scale among a coalition of the concerned and aware, no matter where and how they live, as long as they are able to turn their empathy into practical action.
On the other hand, actors within the global social movement can experience and testify that a politically ‘correct’ radical movement still holds out no guarantee of sensitive anti-racist or anti-sexist practices, to mention just two particular important elements among a whole array of vital postulates. Instead, this movement remains vulnerable to patterns of internal domination, if not discrimination. Kala Subbuswamy and Raj Patel, two activists who base their critical account on own experiences, point in their essay on ‘Cultures of domination: Race and gender in radical movements’ to the fact that, ‘capitalism itself is just one system of domination among many; it is insufficient simply to oppose capitalism whilst remaining silent over the domination that has underwritten, and continues to underwrite, other social systems.’ (1)
Frantz Fanon’s revolutionary convictions were not least a result of the humiliation and alienation he was exposed to when studying in France during the late 1940s. He summarised his rude awakening to the realities of being black in a white dominated society in Black Skin, White Masks. In this challenge of white dominance he stated more than half a century ago ‘that man is a yes… Yes to life. Yes to love. Yes to generosity. But man is also a no. No to scorn of man. No to degradation of man. No to exploitation of man. No to the butchery of what is most human in man: freedom.’ (2)
Pambazuka News is practicing both the ‘yes’ and the ‘no’, sometimes under painful circumstances, where choices of solidarity are a reflection of sobering insights requiring consequences to be drawn and to part from what had been believed to be established common ground. Former liberation movements now executing political power and control as governments are a point in case. By doing so, this forum contributes through all those, who use it as their platform, to the humanity we are striving for. A humanity as a form of human solidarity, which embraces and reflects more than intellectual honesty, analytical rigor and political commitment. A humanity, which only through our empathy becomes truly human. An empathy, without which we would not be able to act in true solidarity. Pambazuka News will change over time and with circumstances, to stand firmly in solidarity with those, who fight for more equality, justice and human dignity.
(1) Kala Subbuswamy and Raj Patel, ‘Cultures of domination’, p.537.
(2) Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks, p.222.
Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks. New York: Grove Press 1968.
Reinhart Kößler/Henning Melber, ‘International civil society and the challenge for global solidarity’. In: Global civil society – More or less democracy?, Development Dialogue, no. 49, November 2007, pp.29-39.
John Sanbonmatsu, The Postmodern Prince: Critical Theory, Left Strategy, and the Making of a New Political Subject, New York: Monthly Review Press 2004.
Kala Subbuswamy and Raj Patel, ‘Cultures of domination: Race and gender in radical movements’. In Kolya Abramsky (ed), Restructuring and Resistance: Diverse voices of struggle in Western Europe, (no place, no publisher) 2001, pp.535-545.
* Henning Melber is Executive Director of the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation in Uppsala, Sweden.
* Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or comment online at http://www.pambazuka.org/
Liberation, information, and the pan-Africanist press
Proudly celebrating 400 issues of Pambazuka News
The following words were highlighted on the front page of the first African American owned and operated newspaper in the United States, Freedoms Journal (1827): ‘We wish to plead our own cause. Too long have others spoken for us.’
The founders of Freedoms Journal, Samuel Cornish and John B. Russwurm published 52 issues of Freedoms Journal that were distributed in more than 11 states. One of the most distinguished writers for the publication was David Walker, a leading spokesperson for resistance and abolition, who in 1829 penned ‘David Walker’s Appeal.’
More than a statement of rights, or a historical survey of the African-American experience, David Walker’s Appeal was a mobilising tool for the growing early 19th century militant resistance of the African-American community. The appeal so frightened the slaveholding establishment that a bounty was placed on the life of David Walker. ‘David Walker’s Appeal’ was not the first salvo in the African American struggle for human rights but one of the most forthright. By the end of the Civil War in 1865 there would be more than 40 African American owned and operated newspapers in the United States.
Pambazuka follows the same tradition as Freedoms Journal. Taken from the Kiswahili words meaning ‘the dawn’, Pambazuka is a tool for liberation and information. In the same way that Freedoms Journal signaled the rise of militant black nationalism in the 19th century so does Pambazuka provide a voice for a growing pan-African community. In the same way that the Chicago Defender and the Negro World signaled a voice of resistance so does Pambazuka echo an organised and visionary African global community. Much like the words and spirit of Muhammad Speaks and the Black Panther Newspaper, Pambazuka is a philosophy, a vision, and a movement.
The timing of the press is crucial in providing a platform for movements of social change and activism. When Freedoms Journal was launched in the early 19th century it was able to catalyse the movements for Black Nationalism and the development of separate independent African-American institutions. When the Chicago Defender began publishing in 1905 it spoke to a movement of African-Americans migrating from the southern states to the urban cities of the North. The Defender became the most influential African American newspaper in the United States before World War I and could count amongst it outstanding writers and editors both Langston Hughes and the esteemed Poet Laureate Gwendolyn Brooks. As a correspondent for the Pittsburgh Courier, Joel Augustus Rogers (J.A. Rogers) covered the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in 1935-36, providing a perspective that was not adequately presented in the mainstream press. Rogers was also the author of From Superman to Man (1917), Worlds Great Men of Color (1931), and several other essential writings.
Pambazuka News was officially launched at the end of 2001. As we go to press Pambazuka has more than 15,000 subscribers and more than 500,000 readers. The list of writers numbers more than 1,000 and includes an eclectic blend of academics, activists, journalists, civil society representatives, policy makers, and community people from around the world. Pambazuka’s news coverage is not limited to Africa but seeks to cover the broader global community with an emphasis on Africa and the African Diaspora. Fahamu - Networks for Social Justice, the publisher of Pambazuka News, plays a larger activist role in providing courses on new technology, organisational management skills and assistance with campaign building. With the addition of pod casts and blog links, Pambazuka is a treasure trove for information and activism.
Marcus Garvey’s Negro World was produced in New York in 1918 and had a worldwide distribution of several hundred thousand until its end in the early 1930s. While primarily intended as the voice of the Universal Negro Improvement Association, the Negro World reported on individual branches of the UNIA, UNIA enterprises, and the politics of African people at home and aboard. Much like Pambazuka the Negro World reached the United States, the Caribbean, Central America, Europe, and Africa. At one point the Negro World was published in Spanish and French and included some of the most prominent African-American writers and thinkers of the 20th century: Hubert Harrison, Arthur Schomburg and Zora Neale Hurston. The Negro World newspaper was a ‘launching pad’ for the Harlem Renaissance and the spirit of resistance that followed black migration North and the lessons learned from World War I.
The African and African-American press has served as a steady influence in providing information able to be used to build movements of social and political change. The work of Edward Wilmot Blyden (Liberian Herald) and Duse Mohammed Ali (African Times and Orient Review) were forerunners to the contributions of Namdi Azikwe, the first president of Nigeria and the founder of the West African Pilot. On the other side of the Atlantic Ocean a militant activist press fuelled the movement of civil rights and laid the basis for a pan-African consciousness. The Peoples Translation Service from Oakland, California published the bi-monthly Newsfront International. Washington Notes on Africa was instrumental in the building of the movement against apartheid in southern Africa. Southern African provided a regular, detailed focus on all things southern African. Our communities could count on Africa Report, African News, Black News, Facts and Reports, Africa Now, Multinational Monitor, Jeune Africa, Africa, West Africa, SECHABA, Black News, The African World, African Concord, New Africa, South, Africa Asia, AIM, California Newsreel, and many others to provide supply information that could be used for mobilisation. Sometimes the publications were weeklies and at times there were published occasionally but always providing much needed information that was not easily accessible.
The founding of Muhammad Speaks in 1961 represented the growth of the Nation of Islam in the United States. Previously the words and the messages of the Nation of Islam had appeared in the Pittsburgh Courier and other press outlets. Reaching a circulation of more than 500,000 Muhammad Speaks included news and updates on African affairs. Originally named the Black Panther Black Community New Service in 1971, the Black Panther was both a national and international journal that provided information on the global struggles of African peoples. Similar to Pambazuka in form, the Black Panther newspaper presented culture, local news, international news, and a new vision about African peoples globally and nationally. One of the most essential and timely sections of the Black Panther newspaper was its coverage of international affairs. For the price of twenty five cents the reader could follow Amílcar Cabral, Samora Machel, Cuba, Vietnam, Mozambique, the Congo, South Africa, East Timor, Ethiopia, Brazil, Zimbabwe, and Namibia.
The many issues facing the global African community today demand our collective attention and action. AFRICOM must be opposed in all shapes and formats. There must be a total cancellation of the odious debt that has been imposed on African peoples. The voices of women must be respected and their exploitation in all forms must be ended. We need to re-strengthen our global links by forging new alliances of information and exchange between African peoples in the Americas, the United States, and in Africa. There is a need to build on the legacy of Freedoms Journal and ensure we can plead our own causes through our own media. We must develop a movement and a consciousness to free long held political prisoners in the United States; they have suffered too long for standing up for their people’s freedom. Our organisations must be stronger, more accountable, more committed to human rights, and more adept at using new technologies for change. We must talk to each other and learn to reflect that being African is a history of pride and struggle that can sustain our communities. Our art and our culture must be a tool for social and political change. We have much work to do.
Our task as subscribers and readers of Pambazuka is to ensure the future of our publication and its umbrella Fahamu. Many of the newspapers and journals that led the media-charge for our movements of human rights and social justice were not able to sustain the finances and the labour needed in order to continue to provide information and analysis. Our collective celebration of this 400th issue is tempered with the reality of the tasks ahead and the need to respect the legacy of an activist media that laid the foundation for Pambazuka.
* Walter Turner is a professor of history and chairperson of the Social Sciences Department at the College of Marin, Kentfield, California.
* Please send comments to email@example.com or comment online at http://www.pambazuka.org/
Scratching the surface: Pambazuka News and emancipatory politics
Happy anniversary to the staff of Pambazuka News. What follows below is a sort of a long-winded happy anniversary card wishing you all the best, hoping that you will keep going, that you will chart new directions, that your energy will incite all generations and all people of the world connected directly or indirectly to Africa to come up with solutions to the multiple problems affecting Africans, and through Africans, humanity. It is my wish that we step out of this massive ongoing laundering system, which keeps extracting profits out of unspeakable sufferings, starting with violence against women, and against children. This violence is not new, and it looks worse when one looks at places like eastern DR Congo, but it has been going on for a very long time. For this massive suffering of women, the weak and the poor, there has never ever been what one could call a massive apology from men, the powerful and the rich. It is as if the rich are rich because they deserve to be rich. Not surprisingly, most of the history of humanity has been written from the perspective of power and violations of humanity.
Is it not strange that while slavery triggers thoughts of, and calls for, reparations, one very rarely hears of calls for reparations with regard to sexual violence. Slavery has been declared a crime against humanity, but when will sexual violence be declared a crime against humanity, and acted upon accordingly? Out of slavery emerged colonial occupation. In the case of the US, and the Caribbean, the wiping out of native populations, a genocide, led the triumphant globalisers of those times to look for an easy hunting ground for people to enslave: Africa became the prime provider of the most sought after resource of the day. In a nutshell, if one could condense the history of Africa, from the violence against women through enslavement, colonial and apartheid rule, would it be an exaggeration to see in it a massive, unrecognised, unacknowledged, laundering system? If slavery has been recognised as a crime against humanity why is it that the gains made from that crime are not returned to a fund for the healing of humanity? A healing fund for humanity is something completely different from reparations even though it does repair, but it must go further. How could one accept reparations in the very currency that gained legitimacy through a crime against humanity? That would be accepting the laundering exercise.
A healing fund for humanity would insist that it is not enough to declare sexual violence against women or slavery crimes against humanity, especially if, in the process, all such a declaration does is to give a sort of moral sheen to those who apologise, while they continue to enjoy to the maximum the consequences and the profits generated by the crimes. As one reads, feels and sees deeper into what happened to humanity through sexual violence and slavery, it is extremely difficult not to conclude that most of humanity has made a greater effort at forgetting what happened than trying to make sure of knowing what really happened. Tracing how the forgetting took place can be confusing. For example, for slavery (which included sexual violence against women), this effort occurred on both sides: on the side of those who were slaughtered physically, maimed psychically and, left to mend themselves; but also on the side of those who most profited from the crime, and some of the latter were actually related to those who were raided, herded and shipped. Kimpa Vita, daughter of a well-to-do family in the Kongo Kingdom did all she could to get the king to stop the raiding and selling. For her fearless denunciation of slavery, Capuchin missionaries countered with accusations of heresy, and had her burnt at the stake. One would think that figures like hers would have long ago been raised to the status African Liberation Heroines and Heroes. All histories, not just African, contain episodes which the descendants of the protagonists would rather not touch, out of fear, shame or both.
As a historian, I like very much what Pambuzuka News is doing, but I would like it to do even better. History is never completely known. In the case of African history, one should say histories, the surface has been barely scratched. It is not only because most of the archives are out of reach of most of the people who should be the first to know, it is primarily because the current political leadership in all African countries are not interested in knowing those histories. Worse, one sees ruling cliques literally turning their back to the history they actually contributed to bring about. One should stress, also, that this practice of moving away or against the history of one’s humanity is not peculiar to African ruling cliques. Most of the countries with a colonising past are not interested in pushing for better and greater knowledge of the complete and total history of all their people.
The study and recounting of histories that would honour and heal every single member of humanity is, with very, very few exceptions, far from the preoccupations of history departments in academia. Admittedly, revisiting fearful, shameful, dehumanising episodes (slavery, sexual violence against women, imperialisms, Nazism, colonial occupations, genocides, lynching, discriminating justice systems) of the history of humanity is not easy. In the current context, which only honours and reinforces laundered power, promoting healing histories of humanity would be considered political suicide by almost any ruler on the planet.
As Michael Neocosmos wrote sometime back in a comment on the 2007-08 Kenyan crisis, the objective of propagating and ruling by way of politics of fear is to instigate the fear of emancipatory politics. There is a connection between politics of fear, fear of emancipatory politics and fear of emancipatory healing histories of humanity. For example, but just in passing, the current global financial crisis has been given all kinds of names in the past few months, except the one name which it really deserves. However, in order to give it that name, one would need to understand the current crisis from a wider time span than the one used by most analysts. It has taken a few months to admit that it was comparable to the financial crisis of 1929. My view is that it is not. It is worse, but for that we must await another few months. The data are available, but remain unseen because those voices that count refuse to look at them. The histories are audible, visible, but will not be seen by those who have been trained not to see or hear the healing voices of humanity.
Will it be possible to hear more frequently the healing voices of those who are screaming for help, not because they are special, but because they are the voices of Pambazuka News? Will it be possible to hear the stories that the powers-that-be would rather keep silent? The examples are uncountable, but for the rest of this essay I would like to go back to Haiti. Haiti is Africa and yet, it is treated as if it is very remote from it. If Haiti was not mired in poverty, Africans (especially those with the means to do so) would be visiting, but why is Haiti so poor, after it had been the jewel of the French colonial empire during slavery? More recently in 2004, why was a democratically elected president in Jean Bertrand Aristide, kidnapped and sent to exile? In other words, what is it in Haiti’s history that, seemingly, keeps calling for such vengeful retribution from the former colonial power and its allies?
Still more recently (see Kevin Pina’s article in Pambazuka (26-08-2008), as well as the Open Letter by Madame Jean-Pierre (26-08-2008)), why has someone like Lovinsky Jean-Pierre been kidnapped, more than a year ago, and relatively so little been done to get him back to his family? When Africans (of all ages) are kidnapped, there is less concern and interest in the media controlled by the powerful, then when a white child is.
All of the above questions are related to African history, past and current. Starting with the last, Lovinsky Jean-Pierre’s biggest sin (from the point of view of the ruling clique in Haiti, and its supporters) has been to keep calling, persistently and vociferously, for the return of Aristide. And what was Aristide’s crime? To have responded as best as he could to the calls from the poorest of the poor in Haiti. His response was rooted in his understanding of the gospel and what he had learned from the solidarity of his mostly poor parishioners. The result of this process has been, in Aristide’s practice, liberation theology. But it also went further into an understanding of the unbroken connection of Haiti’s history from 1804 to today. In Haiti, emancipatory histories and emancipatory politics have been intertwined in a way that has remained indelibly seared in the conscience of its people.
The saddest aspect of this is how the South African government has colluded to do to Aristide what the powers that be wanted; to keep him under house arrest or something close to it. This is difficult to understand in view of the fact that then President Thabo Mbeki was the only African head of state present in Haiti on the 1 January 2004 bi-centenary independence celebration. From an interview he granted Peter Hallward (1), it seems that Aristide wanted to keep quiet and, thereby, demonstrated that the emancipatory politics of Fanmi Lavalas had more to do with the people of Haiti themselves than with Aristide himself. The lesson being shown in Haiti is that emancipatory politics, by definition, must be at a distance from the state. More importantly, organisation and leadership in such politics, if they are going to be emancipatory, have to rely on the principle that every one counts, everyone speaks for herself or himself. The relationship between Aristide and Fanmi Lavalas is an ongoing illustration of how emancipatory politics works.
Yet, in the most recent issue of the Brazilian edition of Le Monde Diplomatique, (August 2008) Christophe Wargny goes out of his way in order not to mention Fanmi Lavalas even though it is its members who have been targeted in the so-called stabilisation process of Haiti by the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) (2). It is as if the main objective of the writer (once a supporter of Aristide) is to deny, denigrate and/or erase the politics of self-reliance that have been transforming Haiti. Whatever advances had been made under Aristide, especially in the areas of health and education for the population, seemingly must not be mentioned. While he mentions the heavy price paid by the country over the years and centuries of brain drain, he deliberately does not mention what Aristide had initiated in order to stem the brain drain. It is a stunning exercise in silencing emancipatory politics and history in a single swoop. Aristide’s reliance on the self-reliant and self-confident popular politics seems to have been corroborated on 15 July 2008, when the population massively came out to commemorate his birthday, without anyone in particular calling for the march. The twin question of emancipatory politics and emancipatory histories should be at the core of the next generations of Africans battling to transform the current situation, for the better, for everyone. If all of us are willing to speak up and speak out for the ‘Wretched of the Earth’, if all of us are willing to put aside our fears, then, indeed, a new dawn for Africa and Africans will sooner than later arise.
The point is this: emancipatory politics and emancipatory histories are being generated all the time, but they will not be advertised by those who are not interested in them. As I understand it, the challenge to all of us is to make sure that Pambazuka keeps getting better at being the channel through which emancipatory battles will be waged. It is not the only one, but it is the one I know best. I look forward to the next 400 anniversaries.
(1) See the appendix in Peter Hallward, Damming the Flood: Haiti, Aristide and the Politics of Containment, Verso Press, 2007.
(2) Christophe Wargny, ‘Ainda muito longe a normalidade’, Le Monde Diplomatique Brasil, August 2003, pp. 28-9.
* Jacques Depelchin is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of the Berkeley-based Ota Benga International Alliance for Peace in the DR Congo.
* Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or comment online at http://www.pambazuka.org/
Voice against Economic exploitation and political domination
African narratives of development and the consequences of marketisation
Over 35 years ago, the Guyanese historian Walter Rodney, in his widely-acclaimed book, How Europe underdeveloped Africa, defined development in human society as a ‘many sided process’:
‘At the level of the individual, it implies increased skill and capacity, greater freedom, creativity, self-discipline, responsibility and material well-being … the achievements of these aspects of personal development is tied in with the state of the society as a whole’. (1)
Rodney contends that the ability of individuals to achieve personal development is dependent on ‘the relationship between individuals in a social group, [which] within any two societies is regulated by the form of the two societies’, and which are dependent on ‘the coming together of the societies in the struggle against natural hazards and to protect their freedom; on this basis humans developed tools and organized their labour to enable social development’. Therefore, ‘every people have shown a capacity for independently increasing their ability to live a more satisfactory life through the exploiting the resources of nature.’ (2)
Rodney then goes on to consider how the capacity of the people of Africa to develop themselves had been constrained by their interaction with Europe during slavery and colonialism. The ability of Africans to recapture that freedom to define their future and to develop is a problem that is of concern today, especially at this critical juncture in the history of global capitalism. During the last ten years, Pambazuka News has played a pivotal role in freeing up those voices of the people and of friends of Africa that are campaigning for political, economic and social justice in order to enhance the lives of Africans on the continent. The global economic crisis of 2008 has shown the necessity for a consistent voice against economic exploitation and political domination. Growth, but not at all cost.
This paper will now focus on two events that shaped the last decade, that have hindered the delivery of social justice and that have ramifications for the realisation of a Rodney-esque development in post-colonial Africa, unless progressive forces can provide meaningful alternatives.
The first event took place in the late 1990s with the reconfiguration of the rhetoric of neoliberalism in Africa under the banner of Poverty Reduction and Growth Strategy (PRGS) papers. Critics of structural adjustment were temporarily silenced as the International Financial Institutions pushed through market-oriented policies that had the appearance of being more people friendly, yet the reality could not be hidden. These were, among others: the continued impoverishment of the masses, while a small political and business elite amassed considerable wealth; the death of millions of civilians in futile wars, as weapons became easily available on the global market; peace deals that were concerned more about reconstructing the conditions for extraction than securing the conditions of life for African people; corrupt Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) contracts that see billions of dollars leave the continent, whilst African women and children are excepted to dance for a few millions given in aid and; NGOs claiming that they are bringing development whilst depriving people of the capacity to make their world according to their own choosing.
The second event that changed the politico-economic landscape of the globe was the attack on the World Trade building in New York on 11 September 2001 that claimed the lives of 3,000 people, mostly Americans, and the subsequent ‘war on terror’ that ensued when the American response brought war and insecurity to millions around the globe. A disproportionate number of innocent lives have been lost in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Somalia; others have seen their civil liberties and their relationship with their states being redefined as many states, under pressure from the US, have sought to introduce identity cards without the approval of their citizens.
As David Harvey has shown in his book, The New Imperialism, the war in Iraq, which arose from no visible threat by Iraq to the United States, was a response by American capitalists to the impending crisis in the American economy. Washington Post journalist, Rajiv Chandrasekaran, in his book, Imperial Life in the Emerald City, also documents how billion dollar contracts were given out to supporters of the Republican Party. Iraq provided the means for the enrichment of a few while the people died for lack of medicine outside the gated community of the Green Zone. Military excursions to accumulate by dispossession became fashionable again in the 21st century. It is also revealing that during this economic climate the US government announced the readiness of their Africa command, designed to protect America’s interest in Africa, but presented as providing a rapid response to humanitarian crises.
Elite greed has been banded about as one of the reasons for Africa’s continued impoverishment. However, the link between global capitalism and African elites is rarely made today, especially as neo-Marxian analyses of the ‘comprador bourgeoisie’ are seen as old-fashioned and outdated. Yet, understanding those links is critical to any explanation of widening social inequalities in contemporary Africa.
Greed and indifference to poverty have long characterised the capitalist world, in which social inequalities are inevitable and widely acceptable. Engels wrote, in his History of the Working Class in England, about the dreadful living conditions of the poor in the English city of Manchester. This text was published in 1847, almost 100 years before the welfare system was introduced. To appease the conscience of the wealthy, the poor were characterised as less than human, and in many parts of the world, especially during the colonial era, non-whites filled this role. Moving forward to the late twentieth century, one could argue that there must have been a deficit in the social conscience and ethics of proponents of economic policies that impoverished millions of Africans, whilst they enriched themselves as expert consultants. These policies arise from what I in 2008 have termed ‘genocidal economics’ or ‘the forms of economic engagement that require the physical elimination of competition. This type of economics comes from a form of competition for resources which is militarized, racialized and linked to the characterization of economic opponents as vermin’ (3).
Genocidal economics is heightened by conditions of capitalist crisis. The elements of this kind of economics were best expressed in Germany of the 1940s. Genocidal economics and its variant of market fundamentalism brings to the fore what David Harvey (2000) calls the ‘amoral order of capitalist power’.
This view of the rapaciousness of capitalism was expressed recently by a lecturer at a London business school. Dr Stefano Harney contends:
‘The best business schools should be questioning themselves as to what part they might be playing in the current (financial) crisis. The business schools did very, very little to educate and challenge the so-called culture of greed and of bonuses that seem to have dominated the City ... We have failed to teach our students the kind of social conscience and ethics and concern for the world and the environment and the poor that might have had an effect on the selfish exuberance of the finance markets.’ (4)
Over-extended profit seekers in the unregulated American economy are the architects of the latest crisis in capitalism. In Africa, under free-market capitalism, asset stripping, user fees and corrupt FDI contracts have contributed to the impoverishment of poor communities, yet the mantra of poverty reduction is given as an unchallengeable justification. The other emergent mantra of the decade was ‘post-conflict reconstruction.’ Governments, NGOs and private contractors use this smokescreen to secure new means of accumulation, while claiming to bring peace and stability. So it is not surprising that the economist, Paul Collier, in his book The Bottom Billion, calls for military intervention to stabilize African economies. Rather than de-militarise African economies, peace-keeping and post-conflict reconstruction have led to a greater militarisation of the continent as weapons have become widely available. The setting up of the US military command for Africa, Africom, and its European variants signals new vulnerabilities in Africa, and choppy waters ahead for those who challenge America’s hegemony. We should not forget that the imperialist scramble for Africa was preceded by the economic crisis of the 1870s and, a hundred years later, structural adjustment programmes followed the crisis of accumulation in the 1970s. Africa may appear to be unscathed by this current crisis, but it is bound to feel the repercussions.
So what opportunities are there for campaigners of social justice?
Firstly, regulation is the order of the day, and Africa governments should act quickly to protect the most vulnerable poor, in the same way that America and Europe have sought to protect the vulnerable rich. With its nationalisation of the banks Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, and the $700bn bailout of other banks the US will become more regulated than any socialist country. Britain has also nationalised two banks and has insured deposits of up to £50,000 in British Banks. These actions run counter to the advice forced on African countries undergoing crisis. We should, therefore, increase the pressure on African governments and regional organisations to adopt more socially just and people-centred policies. They should resist the ‘do as I say, not as I do’ policies that have characterised western governments’ and IFIs’ polices for the continent. Africans should oppose asset-stripping FDI contracts, land-grabbing, and expose the PRGS for what they are, an elite-centred, wealth accumulation strategy.
A Rodney-esque development envisages individuals as fulfilling their potential within a social group that cares about their well-being and security. The freedom to think and to grow into one’s person can occur through opportunities of education and the acknowledgement of your worth as a human-being. Over the past two decades, the denial of educational opportunities to Africans, enforced by Africans who themselves benefited from free education will have repercussions that will stunt the growth of the society. One should not forget that at the geographical core of neoliberal ideas marketisation was contested and not pushed to the extreme because of concerns over the deprivation of large sectors of society. In Britain, people are still fighting to retain free state-funded education for all, a national health care system and cash welfare benefits.
At another level, the denial of rights and freedoms because of gender remains a major constraint on the realisation of development potential. At the regional level, the African Union has made great strides towards introducing legislation aimed at improving the position of women in society. These have now to be realised on the ground and have to be fought for. The manifestation of sexual violence against women and girls in post-conflict or economically deteriorating settings signals not just the persistence of the de-humanising tendencies of war, but also a reconstruction and development programme that saps communities of responsibility, creativity and the valorisation of life.
Finally, Africans have to return to creating their own narratives of development. The hegemonic narratives of the West have failed to improve the lot of the majority. As Charles Ake (1996) notes: ‘The idea that a people or their culture and social institutions can be an obstacle to their development is one of [the] most expensive errors [of the development project].’ (5) Technological developments such as the internet and mobile phones as media for social change have yet to be fully exploited. Pambazuka News has helped to push the boundaries of information, to force us to think critically about that which we were told were above criticism. Margaret Thatcher, the former prime minister of Britain and one of marketisation’s main proponents once said: ‘There is no such thing as society’. She has been proven wrong. The issue now is what kind of society we need to enable each and every one of us to fulfil our potential. Pambazuka News can continue in its important role of providing the forum for debates over such questions.
(1) Rodney, How Europe underdeveloped Africa, p.110.
(3) Daley, Gender and genocide in Burundi, p.9.
(4) Harney quoted in Corbyn (2008) ‘Did Poor Teaching lead to the Crash?’, THES.
(5) Ake, Democracy and Development in Africa, p.8.
Ake, Claude (1996) Democracy and Development in Africa, Brookings Institution Press.
Chandrasekaran, Rajiv (2008) Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Bhagdad’s green zone, Bloomsbury Pub PLC.
Collier, Paul (2007) The Bottom Billion: why the poorest countries are failing and what can be done about it. Oxford: OUP.
Daley, Patricia (2008) Gender and genocide in Burundi: The Search for Spaces of Peace in the Great Lakes Region of Africa, Oxford: James Currey; Bloomington Indiana: Indiana University Press.
Engels, F. (1847) The History of the Working Class in England.
Harvey, David (2000) ‘Cosmopolitanism and the Banality of Geographical Evils’, Public Culture, 12 (2) 529-564.
Harvey, David (2006) The New Imperialism, Oxford: OUP.
Rodney, Walter (1972) How Europe underdeveloped Africa.
Harney, Stefano quoted in Zoe Corbyn (2008) ‘Did Poor Teaching lead to the Crash?’, Times Higher Education Supplement, London, 25 September 2008.
* Dr Patricia Daley is a university lecturer in Human Geography, and an official fellow and geography tutor at Jesus College, the University of Oxford.
* Please send comments to email@example.com or comment online at http://www.pambazuka.org/
Congratulations to Pambazuka!
Kwesi Kwaa Prah
Fahamu - Networks For Social Justice
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